Ottawa Lake Fen SNA

The Ottawa Lake Fen State Natural Area is one of 674 designated State Natural Areas in Wisconsin, and together they comprise 380,000 acres of some of the most beautiful and treasured lands in the state.  Working at The Fen was a natural progression from working across the street at the Scuppernong Springs Nature Trail and having an eye for buckthorn.

For a comprehensive history of the area I highly recommend Robert Duerwachter’s excellent books THE PONDS OF THE SCUPPERNONG, and The Tibby Line.  Pick up your copies, while they last, at the Kettle Moraine State Forest — Southern Unit headquarters because these wonderful historical references are out-of-print (Robert may have a few left).   Here are some historical views of the territory.

1836 Survey Map (Ben Johnson, SEWRPC Land Survey Assistant)

1836 Survey Map (Ben Johnson, SEWRPC Land Survey Assistant)

1836 Survey Notes (per Ben "Here's as far back as we'll ever get, 1836. The Section corners that match our other maps are in red. The surveyors found marsh, brooks, and oaks. A few grassy areas. The last statement says they found grapes and other vines? I don't think the Fen and Lake were separate entities until the canals were dug. The water level must have dropped and now we have a shallow wetland separating the two areas. Our beloved tamarack grove probably didn't exist."

1836 Survey Notes (per Ben “Here’s as far back as we’ll ever get, 1836. The Section corners that match our other maps are in red. The surveyors found marsh, brooks, and oaks. A few grassy areas. The last statement says they found grapes and other vines?
I don’t think the Fen and Lake were separate entities until the canals were dug. The water level must have dropped and now we have a shallow wetland separating the two areas. Our beloved tamarack grove probably didn’t exist.”

1873 -- A closer look at "Silver Lake", which was eventually renamed to Ottawa Lake

1873 — A closer look at “Silver Lake”, which was eventually renamed to Ottawa Lake (from THE PONDS OF THE SCUPPERNONG).

The perspective from 1892

The perspective circa 1892 (provided by Ben Johnson).

The route of the Tibby Line from Dousman to the marl factory at The Springs

This 1913 map from THE PONDS OF THE SCUPPERNONG shows the route of the Tibby Line railroad from Dousman to the marl factory at The Springs.

Silver Lake in 1937. Notice the different layout of drainage canals from that depicted in the map below

Silver Lake in 1937. Notice the different layout of drainage canals from that depicted in the map below (thanks Ben).

Ottawa Lake Fen 1970

The Ottawa Lake Fen 1970. It is possible that the distinction between the fen and the lake was caused by the drainage canals diverting water to the south, away from the lake.

The Ottawa Lake Scientific Area before it was designated a State Natural Area

The Ottawa Lake Scientific Area in 1975 before it was designated a State Natural Area

The management approach decided in 1975 was to “maintain area in wild condition”.

Evidence of the drainage systems created to farm the land west of Ottawa Lake and the fen.

Evidence of the drainage systems created to farm the land west of Ottawa Lake and The Fen? Remember, the map is not the territory.

The Fen -- 2013

The Fen — 2013

Scroll a little north in the map above and drill into the Ottawa Lake Fen SNA.  At the maximum zoom you can identify some of the drainage ditches identified above.

I began working on the oak studded hillside between the east shore of Ottawa Lake and the campground in the Fall of 2013, and eventually made it all the way around to Tamarack Bog on the northwest side of The Fen.  Here is chronological timeline of The Buckthorn Man’s adventures  at Ottawa Lake:

First camping trip at My Shangri-La

Second camping trip at My Shangri-La

Piling brush below campsite #335

Buckthorn clearing and Geo-Engineering

Buckthorn clearing with Dick Jenks near the handicap cabin

Cleaning up near the cabin

Cutting buckthorn beneath the massive oaks at the south end of the campgrounds

Clearing below campsite #380

Jared Urban and Nate Fayram from the NDR’s Bureau of Natural Heritage Conservation visit The Springs and The Fen

Dr. Dan Carter, from SEWRPC visits The Springs and The Fen

The Buckthorn Man returns to Shangri-La

Andy Buchta piles buckthorn

The Buckthorn Man explores the springs that feed Ottawa Lake

Starting to clear the Tamarack Bog on the north side of The Fen

The Kettle Moraine Land Stewards join the party

KMLS help The Buckthorn Man clearing northeast side of The Fen

The Buckthorn Man learns a little of the history of The Fen

Brush pile burning on the east side of The Fen

Deep into the Tamarack Bog on the northwest side of The Fen

The last visit to the Tamarack Bog with Ben and Andy

The Buckthorn Man and Lindsay Knudsvig finish the east slope of Ottawa Lake

So, where are we at now?

The Buckthorn Man’s right hand is almost healed from surgery for Dupuytren’s Contracture (no, not caused by cutting buckthorn) and he’s chomp’in at the bit to get back to work.  The exciting news is that Eric Tarman-Ramcheck, who now works for the Wisconsin DNR has submitted a new North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) grant request for the Ottawa Lake and Ottawa Lake Fen SNA areas.  Here is a picture of the proposal.

NAWCA 2015 - Scuppernong River HPA & Ottawa Lake SNA Restoration - Phase 1Ben Johnson and Lindsay Knudsvig have joined The Buckthorn Man in making a commitment to work on the project to generate matching funds for the grant.  We should know by early Spring 2016 whether or not the grant has been awarded.  I hope you will see the value of working at the Ottawa Lake Fen State Natural Area with us — there is still a ton of work to do out there!  Please visit the Volunteer page to learn more about how to volunteer with The Buckthorn Man and Contact me!

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